On the Ukraine War — 1
K. Murali (Ajith)
The real issue of the Ukraine war is the contention between US imperialism and its allies on the one side and Russian imperialism and Chinese social imperialism on the other. It represents a tactical move on either side towards imposing a resolution of the contention between the attempt of the latter to setup a new imperialist order and of the former to preserve the existing one.
Putin’s army has invaded Ukraine after much preparation. The United States and its allies have declared it as an outcome of Putin’s imperialist ambitions and a move to restore the boundaries of the former Soviet Union. On its part the Russian government has stated that they have no intention of occupying Ukraine. This ‘military operation’, it says, is intended to end the attacks by Ukraine on the republics of Luhansk and Donetsk. Along with that Russia says it wants to destroy the Nazi forces who are now politically dominant in Ukraine and demilitarise it. The Russian rulers claim that they have no goals beyond these.
While these are the stated positions, the acts of these powers are quite at variance. Though Putin claimed that he is sending in his military to protect the Republics in the Donbas region, the Russian army launched its attack all over Ukraine. Latest reports indicate its moves to capture the capital, Kiev. On the other hand, while the US and its allies have spoken a lot about defending Ukraine’s sovereignty, they haven’t matched it with their deeds. A few days before the invasion started Biden had expressly stated that the US would not send its troops in the event of a Russian attack. This was almost like waving a green flag for Russian invasion. Though economic sanctions have been enforced after the war started, this stand was reiterated by him. The position of the other NATO members is identical. They have clearly stated that their support will only be in the form of military aid.
A close look at the economic sanctions will show that they are not so effective. Russia owns one of the largest financial reserves in the world. Its economy has improved. A financial transaction system, to some extent capable of handling exclusion from SWIFT, is also said to be in place. Moreover it has the support of China. Quite possibly it will be able to weather the sanctions. This is known to those enforcing them.
One can get an idea of the real nature of these sanctions from the Nord 2 gas-line issue. Germany has now frozen its commissioning. But, another pipeline, the Nord 1, has been operational since 2011. It too passes through the Baltic sea and takes Russian gas to Germany. It is still operational and so too are the pipelines passing through Ukraine. Most of the East European countries depend on Russian gas and these haven’t been affected by the sanctions.
The contradictions between European powers and the US too have played a role in the actual watering down of sanctions against Russia. America is keen to make them stop getting gas from Russia and switch to US, Canadian sources. Though touted as a means to break dependence on Russian gas the real intention is to tighten Europe’s dependence on the US and open up a new market for them. Germany and France are not willing to go with this.
Ever since the break up of the Soviet Union, US imperialism has been trying to establish absolute domination over Europe. Earlier it was contained by the Warsaw Pact controlled by Soviet social imperialism. Europe is decisive for world domination. Who gets to control it is crucial. This was something pointed out by Mao Tsetung long ago. Towards the fag end of Soviet social imperialism, Russia had agreed to the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact on the assurance that the NATO wouldn’t be expanded eastwards. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union into a number of independent countries, US imperialism ignored this undertaking and started expanding the NATO. Its aim was to ensure that Russia would be contained forever. Since then 14 new countries have joined the NATO, all from East Europe. Though a number of them are also members of the European Union, they are closer to the US.
The US imperialists concluded that their ‘American century’ had truly begun, with no one capable of standing up to them remaining. They arrogantly declared that they are the sole power with total hegemony over the world. Driven by this thinking they unleashed war and aggression all over the world, including in Europe. This was done unilaterally, with the message that those who wanted to join could come and opposition would be simply ignored. It was done without even trying to get formal acknowledgement from the UN. It attacked Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia and many other countries. The NATO was transformed into a military intervention force operating under US command all over the world, outside of UN supervision.
However, the resistance it encountered in these countries upset these aims. It couldn’t succeed in forcing its diktat and getting out. It got trapped in endless wars. Utilising this situation Russia and China built up their strengths. China became an imperialist country. Overcoming its weaknesses Russia too regained much of its power under Putin. It began to resist US expansion into East Europe and other parts of the world. The wars in Georgia, Azerbaijan and its armed intervention to protect the Assad regime in Syria were examples of this reassertion. Its aggression in Ukraine is a continuation of this policy.
Weakened by the Iraq, Afghan wars, US imperialism and its allies were not in a position to resist Putin. Moreover, over this period Russian imperialism and Chinese social imperialism set up bodies like the Shanghai Co-operation and BRICS. They started to build up an alternate international financial institutional set up, paralleling the US-controlled IMF and World Bank. China became prominent as source of finance and investment for 3rd World countries. Ignoring US opposition, many countries in Europe started to join it in its international ventures. Though China is still behind the US in economic size its growth potential is far greater. As a result of all of this, a multi-centred world imperialist system, quite beyond the sole control of the US, has emerged. What we see in Ukraine is the contradictions of this global system playing out, the compulsions of this global system.
The real issue of the Ukraine war is the contention between US imperialism and its allies on the one side and Russian imperialism and Chinese social imperialism on the other. It represents a tactical move on either side towards imposing a resolution of the contention between the attempt of the latter to setup a new imperialist order and of the former to preserve the existing one. Ukraine’s sovereignty is not the issue for the US or its allies. Neither is the independence of the Luhansk and Donetsk Republics for Russia. Both the contenders are solely interested in improving and consolidating their positions in their global contention.
We must distinguish the national interests of the Ukrainian people and the people of the Donbas republics from those of these imperialist powers. At present these interests are subordinated to the moves of these powers. Yet they still have their own objective existence. World experiences teach that there is every possibility of their gaining an independent role.
The Ukraine had played an important role in the formation of the Soviet Union. Its self-determination was denied under the Czars. The Russian revolution acknowledged it and made it real. 17 per cent of the Ukrainian population is ethnically Russian. Russian culture and literature have been influential since centuries. Hence there is a sizeable population of Russian speakers. While Russian was the official language of the Soviet Union, Ukrainian was compulsory in the schools. This was a result of the Leninist approach on national languages and cultures. Putin, with his imperialist chauvinist arrogance, has condemned this policy. In his view the weakening of the Russian empire built by the Czars by recognising Ukraine as a nation, and accepting Ukrainian as a distinct language, were two ‘crimes’ committed by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. According to him Ukraine had never existed before that and Ukrainian was only a dialect of Russian. Thus the contradiction between this hegemonic design of Russian imperialism and the just national interests of the Ukrainian people is a factor in this war. However, though the aspiration for national resistance is surely evident, it has still not carved out its own space, distinct from US imperialism and the Ukrainian rulers who are acting as its pawns.
After gaining independence, the new rulers of Ukraine adopted an oppressive policy towards national minorities. In the name of strengthening national identity, they actively promoted the worst type of national chauvinism. The use of Russian was banned. Earlier a law permitting the use of a language spoken by a local majority as the local official language was in existence. This was annulled in 2014. This national oppression went to the extent of even banning Russian artists, cultural acts and music. All of this had a diehard Rightist political content. A Ukrainian Nazi leader who had actively collaborated with Hitler’s forces against the Soviet Union, during the 2nd world war was acclaimed as a national hero. Evidently, all of these policies and acts caused great unease in Russian majority regions of the country. The feeling that separation is inevitable if their language and culture is to be sustained became strong. This, further stoked up by Putin’s regime, got actualised as the separatist movements in Luhansk and Donetsk. This too is a factor in this war. Russia is utilising it. Similar to the national resistance of the Ukrainian people, the national resistance of the Russian national minority too has yet to carve out its own space.
These contradictions are different from those among the imperialists and their pawns. One of the poles in them are the people. Hence they contain the potential for a different direction. Even while suffering from the national oppression of the Ukrainian rulers, a large number of the Russian speakers of that country consider themselves as Ukrainians. Their roots in that land go back for generations. For the Ukrainian speakers too, Russian language and culture is not something alien. The chauvinist policies of the rulers affect their cultural, social lives too. Ukrainian identity is one in which Russian elements are interwoven. Any attempt to forcibly remove them or to deny that it has an existence separate from the Russian goes against the interests of the people. They do not accord with objective reality. The root of this discord lies in the opposition between the interests of the people and those of their exploiters, oppressors. That is why one can say with confidence that the objective grounds for its expression still exists. The anti-war demonstrations taking place all over Russia are proof.
But that is not the dominant nature of the overall situation. Though the just interests of the different national peoples are part of this war, the contention between imperialist powers is what stands out. At present this is the principal aspect to be taken into account. The revolutionaries, progressives, should not side with either side. That is not how they should express solidarity with the people of Ukraine or of the Donbas. Instead, they should expose the interests of the imperialist powers and raise their voices to end this imperialist inspired war.
The genuine people’s forces in Ukraine and the Republics in the Donbas, should raise the banner of a united struggle for a new socialist country that will guarantee the self-determination and democratic rights of all national minorities in Ukraine. They should thus differentiate themselves from the aggressor, Russian imperialism, and also from the ruling classes represented by the US pawn Zelensky. The people’s forces in Russia should step up their opposition to their own ruling class, demanding the cessation of the war and withdrawal of Russian troops. This is the only way by which a new pole, a revolutionary pole, can be established. (28–02–2022)
(Views expressed are personal. This article, to be published in the upcoming issue of ‘Towards a New Dawn’, was posted here in view of its urgency.)